Why Do Eskimos Wash Their Clothes in Tide?

Main piece:

(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)

Interviewer: Can you tell me a joke?

Informant: Sure. Here’s one my mother always told me. Do you know why the Eskimos warsh their clothes in Tide?

Interviewer: Why?

Informant: It’s too cold out-tide. (laughs)

Interviewer: (chuckles) Wow. That’s uhh… that’s a good one. Do you think she got that from somewhere or do you think she came up with it?

Informant: N- She always told that joke – no she probably heard it someplace and just repeated it cause she thought it was funny.

Background: My informant was born and raised in southern Illinois to very strict Catholic parents. She has strong Irish and Italian heritage. Her mother disliked profanity in all senses, so though this joke does carry the now offensive demonym ‘Eskimo,’ it is not very risque in any sense, or directed at Inuit people for that matter.

Context: The informant is my grandmother, and has always had a proclivity for telling stories, jokes, and wives tales. This piece was selected out of many from a recording of a long night of telling stories in a comfortable environment.

Thoughts: I think the most interesting things to examine about this joke are that A) even though it’s from over half a century ago it still makes apt use of a corporate name for the central pun and B) to a devout and strict Catholic woman back in the day, words that we now understand are offensive were regarded as fit for joking. Though this woman – my great grandmother – may have never sworn I don’t doubt she had no problem with other racist or offensive names for people or groups. This is a common and interesting problem with religion as a measure of “goodness.”